Thursday, August 29, 2013

Too Much Doing Stuff

I just saw a bundle of indie games, all quite polished, none of which I own. I played their little demo reel videos, and initially each excited me... but then they showed the gameplay, and I kept losing interest.

I'm sure these games are quite good, but I suddenly find myself completely uninterested in games that want me to... well... to do things.

For example, there's Bollywood Wannabee, a very interesting-looking game... except it appears to be a mission-based skill game. And my thought was "hm. I really don't want to play like that." And there's an adventure game, and a shmup - "hm. I don't really want to play like that."

So I thought about the games I actually want to play. Saints Row, Gone Home, Kerbal... they're all open. You exist within a game world that has structure, yes. And there are probably some missions and some progression that you can follow. But the games are very hands-off. They're okay with me not doing anything. In fact, all three reward me just farting around doing nothing. In their own way.

I'm beginning to think that may be the "genre" I have started to like above all others. The "Hey, hi, how ya doin, take yer shoes off" genre. HHHYDTYSO.

I'm not interested in doing what the game wants me to do. At least, not at the pace it wants me to. Maybe it's because I've drifted away from the target age, but my tastes no longer line up with the game designer's intent. The designers tell me I should want to do this particular level now, and try to get a good score. Or, hey, choose any level - but they're levels we designed and the point is to get a good score. Do as we ask!

And... it doesn't gel with me any more. I don't like it any more.

Make something for me. No, wait, it's okay if it's not for me. As long as it can accommodate me. Something I can live in. Something I can pick up and shape as suits my tastes.

Kerbal lets me. Saints Row lets me. Gone Home lets me. They're about as different from each other as you can imagine - tone, play, genre - but they all let me go at my own pace and do what I want.

Gone Home is obviously the most limited example, since rather than letting me do whatever I want, it simply lets me do the few things it is able to do... but whenever I want at whatever pace I want, and it includes several "depacing" elements such as songs you may want to just sit around and listen to.

Saints Row doesn't have unlimited freedom - the game is still about the stupid stuff GTAlikes are about. But I can take it at whatever pace I like, wander the city if I want, dress up funny if I want, play around with the car if I want. The missions are the dullest part of the game to me.

Kerbal has vast amounts of freedom, of course, allowing me to build practically anything, especially with mods. And I know that, if I reaaaalllly wanted to, I could make my own mods. I am free to play as I like.

Of course the line is blurry. For example, does an Elder Scrolls game offer me enough freedom?

Honestly, I don't think it does. Too much of the personalization in an elder scrolls game is tied to the core fighting loop, and the loop is boring. I like that I can wander wherever, but the core loop keeps intruding. This is sort of like how Saints Row IV keeps popping up cops whenever I land clumsily. It gets in the way of what I actually want to do and forces me to deal with whatever the game designers thought I would want to do.

Give me freedom, please. Let me play how I want to play. A well-crafted game means little if it insists I play some childish skill game instead of getting to be in that world as I prefer.

And if that seems like it would neuter your design... how neutered were Gone Home, Kerbal, and Saints Row?

These games all have something to say, something amazing to let you experience. But they invite you in and let you figure it all out at your pace.

Think of a game not as a lecture to be strictly attended, but as a clever friend you haven't seen in years.

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